Audi Sport’s Secret Weapon – Audi Group S RS 002

Built under the radar in the ‘80s and having barely turned a wheel, Audi’s Group S RS 002 is now alive

audiThe final piece in one of motorsport’s most mysterious jigsaws has been nudged into position at last – with the restoration of Audi’s stillborn mid-engined Group S rally car.

Called RS 002, the odd-looking creation has spent much of its life on static display in Ingolstadt. It was created in 1986 by Audi Sport engineers without the knowledge of the company’s management after an earlier, less radical-­looking mid-engined project was captured by a spy photographer and dismantled hours after its existence was made public.

The 002 had been the only non-runner among the handful of known prototypes for Group S, which was designed to produce safer rallying than the legendary Group B regulations while creating more freedom for manufacturers to enter the sport without building hundreds or even thousands of homologation road cars.

Earlier this year, though, the organisers of the Eifel Rallye Festival in Germany asked Audi if there was any chance of its skunkworks project taking part in a parade run.

Recommissioning the 002 took around three months of evening and weekend work by Audi Tradition, the small team responsible for the German brand’s motorsport heritage fleet. With only 13km on its odometer, the 002 was said to be in fair condition. The biggest glitch during the restoration was finding a working ECU for its engine – a very late five-cylinder S1 E2 unit.

We were afforded an exclusive passenger run in the RS 002 a couple of weeks after Walter Rohri and his co-driver Christian Geistdörfer had given the car a gentle run at the Eifel. With a few more kilometres under its belt; the 002 was deemed fit for a bit more performance; its turbocharger was operating at around 1.3bar, and the rev limit was nudged a little higher. This meant just over 260kW to propel a vehicle weighing around 1000kg.

On a quiet road on the outskirts of Ingolstadt, the 002 was able to stretch its legs enough to hint at the potential of what could have been, had Group S not been canned in the immediate aftermath of the Tour de Corse accident that claimed the lives of Henri Toivonen and Sergio Cresto in May 1986.

In true Quattro style, the engine needs hard work to fully exploit its prodigious power; there’s next to nothing below 4500rpm, and the kick in the kidneys only really happens between 6000 and 7000rpm. The oddest sensation of all is hearing that trademark five-cylinder warble and wail from behind your head instead of it trying to shake itself loose of the mountings in front of you. Our driver, Tradition engineer Thomas Bauch, revealed that with its full 2bar of boost pressure, the engine would be pumping out 530kW. The thought of that power in a car this light, with mid-’80s crowd control, is genuinely unnerving.

Future plans for the RS 002 remain undecided. “Everything is open, but equally nothing is planned,” says Audi Tradition boss Peter Kober. Expect outings at Goodwood and various Audi celebrations – though with gentle use only. As Bauch told us: “If the gearbox goes, we can fix it. If the engine goes, we can fix it. But if we crash? There’s no spare bodywork. One accident and it could be over.”

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